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Neologisms in New Zealand Sign Language. A case study of COVID-19 pandemic-related signs.

conference contribution
posted on 15.06.2022, 22:38 by Rachel McKeeRachel McKee, Mireille Vale
As an unwritten language that was until recently used mainly in informal face-to-face communication, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) has many lexical gaps. The need to fill these gaps is driven in part by the increasing participation of Deaf NZSL users in new social, political, occupational and educational domains (McKee, 2017). As a result, and with increased status and visibility of NZSL in the public domain, there is now a growing demand for translation and interpreting of information into NZSL. The immediate need to translate and simultaneously interpret public health information during the Covid-19 pandemic response in New Zealand is an example of an event that has rapidly generated and disseminated neologisms in NZSL. This paper explores some of the processes of NZSL covid-related vocabulary development and community adoption and discusses the implications for NZSL lexicography. We will begin by reporting on the observations of a number of NZSL translators and interpreters who were producing coronavirus-related texts in NZSL during the pandemic response. In focus group interviews they discussed strategies used when under pressure to coin or borrow new signs on the spot, without being able to draw on available community discourse around the topic (since regular televised press briefings and official online public health communications translated into NZSL were often the NZSL-using Deaf community’s first exposure to corona-related concepts and vocabulary). We also report interpreters’ and translators’ observations around the dissemination of coronavirus-related signs within their team and in the wider community. We also explore signs that were contributed to our vocabulary crowdsourcing platform NZSL Share. Launched in early 2020, NZSL Share is a sister website to the Online Dictionary of NZSL and is intended to enable direct, interactive input by the Deaf community into documenting NZSL. NZSL users can upload and discuss proposed neologisms as well as previously unrecorded signs in community use. NZSL Share contributions include directly coronavirus-related vocabulary (e.g. ‘coronavirus’, ‘alert levels’, ‘lockdown’) and new terms that were prompted by adjacent topics in the press briefings (e.g. ‘mortgage freeze’). These contributions include examples of loan signs (both from spoken English and from other sign languages) as well as language-internal coinages. We will briefly discuss how this finding relates to wider research into NZSL vocabulary development processes and NZSL users’ attitudes towards external influences (McKee & McKee, 2020). We will also make some observations around the usefulness and the limitations of using NZSL Share as an online collection and validation platform and its long-term connections to the Online Dictionary of NZSL, which has thus far relied on face-to-face validation groups as a supplement to a (relatively small) historical corpus


Preferred citation

McKee, R. & Vale, M. (n.d.). Neologisms in New Zealand Sign Language. A case study of COVID-19 pandemic-related signs. In 3rd Globalex Workshop on Lexicography and Neology, Online.

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3rd Globalex Workshop on Lexicography and Neology

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Unpublished Paper

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